MOBILE, Ala. — James Bradberry remembers the moment he realized he might have a shot at the NFL.
Bradberry was sitting in The Caf — an on-campus dining hall — at Arkansas State, keeping one eye on the NFL draft as his one year in Jonesboro came to an end. He had already decided to transfer to Samford that summer, a move that would move him out of the bright lights of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Then he saw Corey White’s name flash across the screen. New Orleans snapped up White in the fifth round, opening a realm of possibilities for anybody who might be playing for the Football Championship Subdivision school in Birmingham, Alabama, in the future.
“I guess that was a sign right there,” Bradberry said.
Four years later, Bradberry is in line to continue a recent run of Bulldogs in the draft. A developmental cornerback with incredible size and length, Bradberry made an appearance in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, and he’s headed to Indianapolis for the NFL combine this week with an eye on jumping up draft boards.
He already has won big by betting on himself before.
Bradberry, who played high school football at Pleasant Grove High in Alabama, initially signed with Hugh Freeze at Arkansas State, but his FBS shot quickly soured. Bradberry redshirted his first season, Freeze left for Ole Miss and both Freeze’s staff and the incoming staff led by Gus Malzahn saw Bradberry as a safety.
He always saw himself playing cornerback.
Bradberry had known Samford cornerbacks coach Sam Shade, a former NFL defensive back who once led the Cincinnati Bengals in tackles, since Bradberry’s time in high school.
“I just got back in touch with him,” Bradberry said. “He gave me an opportunity.”
Bradberry immediately joined the Bulldogs’ rotation and played for the next four seasons, making eight career interceptions and slowly developing into the best player in Shade’s secondary. As a senior, Bradberry made 45 tackles, picked off two passes and broke up 11 more, earning third-team FCS All-America honors.
Along the way, he also realized he had the tools to realize his NFL dream.
Bradberry spent three seasons playing with former Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt, who was snapped up in the second round of last year’s draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Installed as a starter for San Francisco early, Tartt responded with an impressive rookie season, a bright spot on a defense in transition.
“That gives me confidence,” Bradberry said. “I saw him play in practice every day, and I feel like I can play with him as well.”
Bradberry’s size makes him an intriguing prospect in the mid to late rounds.
He measured in at 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds, with 333?8-inch arms, making Bradberry an enticing prospect for any team looking for the Richard Sherman prototype that has become coveted by NFL teams in recent years.
And Bradberry plays to his size.
In Senior Bowl practices, Bradberry was vicious at the line of scrimmage, twice taking receivers to the ground on his jam off the line, proving he can play the kind of press, man-to-man style the New Orleans Saints used last season. Now Bradberry’s out to prove he can also hold up in zone, a key because few NFL teams play only one style of coverage on every snap. Bradberry wants to show he’s more than a one-trick pony, even if that one trick is pretty impressive.
“They love my length, because I can press,” Bradberry said. “I want to also show them that I can play off (in zone coverage) and make the transition.”
Bradberry already has proved he can overcome the small-school stigma with his performance at the Senior Bowl. Now, with the physical tests in Indianapolis looming, Bradberry is out to show he has the speed and change-of-direction necessary to play against smaller receivers in the NFL.
“I can compete with guys from FBS schools,” he said. “I’m not scared. I can step up to the challenge.”
He’s used to overcoming the odds.